Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Shaping A Vision for Push-In Writing Intervention

A working lunch. 
It's been a slow month for me at the middle school, because of SBAC testing, so I've had a lot of time to reflect on my first year as a writing interventionist, and how I will use what I've learned so far in the next school year. Yes! It's only April but I'm already thinking ahead to September. Why? Because this next month and a half presents limited opportunity, amidst our busy schedules, to connect and plan with the literacy coach before we part ways for the summer.

When I came into this role back in October, I was at somewhat of a disadvantage. First, I wasn't around for the first month of school and didn't have the opportunity to connect with the grade-level teams or plan ahead with the literacy coach, or assist her in identifying students who needed Tier 1 or 2 support.

Secondly, I was a replacement hire. The teacher that was originally in my position served in this role very differently and had a different relationship with the English teachers. (The job description changed at the time I was hired.) So, this meant that I had to negotiate a new understanding of the writing interventionist role with the classroom teachers, while at the same time, no one was really 100% sure what my role would look like, since it was a new position.

Third, and most significant, I was and am transitioning from being a full-time classroom teacher to a part-time writing interventionist that works with a small group of students on a narrow scope of writing skills individualized to each student. What does this mean? It means that when I taught high school English, I was more of a generalist. With 175 students, I inevitably gravitated towards teaching to the middle or upper middle of my classes, with very little time for differentiation, despite my best efforts. I also spent much of my time in a reader response mode with the students, and instead of delivering explicit writing instruction, I taught the 5 paragraph essay and "taught" writing via margin notes on papers and the use of "formulas."

As a writing interventionist, I do what every English teacher wishes she could do in the daily running of her classroom. It's basically a dream job but I've had to shift gears-- I still think in terms of the big picture but I also have the luxury of zooming in on the little details within the picture that help students with the micro elements of writing--the sentence and paragraph level, in other words. It's like the Slow Movement of education.

This year, I did a combination of push-in and pull-out, though it did take me awhile to figure out what push-in for writing support might look like, since students typically don't spend a whole period working on writing, nor do many teachers have any regularly scheduled writing routine. This, I understand from my classroom teaching days but now, with the benefit of hindsight, experience and observation, I see that there are probably many ways to make writing happen every day in the English classroom, even under the constraint of 45 minute periods. Some of this writing might be low-stakes and some might be high-stakes. Steven Covey says we should schedule our priorities, and not the other way around. If we value and prioritize writing, then it can happen everyday and there are many, many teachers who do exactly that. All writing counts! I had to remember this, in order to realize that push-in works with low-stakes writing too. Journaling or doing sentence exercises at the beginning of class, during the Do Now, presents an opportunity to reinforce the skills and strategies that students have been working on during intervention.

So, what does push-in look like for a writing interventionist?

  • Non-intrusive
  • Non-disruptive
  • Follows the lead of the teacher and the flow of the classroom
  • Sometimes, I'm crouching desk-side, supporting students with a specific part of a task, like sentence construction. 
  • Sometimes, I'm sitting with a small group of students, all working on the same task, and offering guidance as they work through it. 
  • Sometimes, I am walking around, ready to assist any student, not just the ones I see for intervention. 
  • If possible, I check in with the teacher before I come in, or as I'm entering the room. 
  • Sometimes, I am sitting in the back of the room, observing the lesson and taking notes, so that I can model the same language used by the teacher and teaching points during intervention sessions. 
That last bullet point is particularly important, as it is helpful to know what students are doing in class, so that I can be consistent and provide continuity during intervention sessions, in order to avoid confusion. Whatever strategies I give to students, those strategies must work within the framework the teacher uses in the classroom. 

I have another month and a half (thanks to all the snow days!) to work on this model of push-in support for writing intervention, to learn more lessons about balancing push-in with pull-out, and to begin to develop toolkits that students can access during class, whether or not I'm in the classroom. (I'll share what I've learned about toolkits, specifically in an intervention setting,  in a future post, as that is still under development!) 


  1. I'm a long time reader of many of your blogging post over the years... anyways, I'm fascinated by your new role, particularly how you're shaping it to be something beneficial for you, the students, and the core teachers.

    1. Thanks, laniza! It's been fun to figure all this stuff out as I go.